Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Alcoholic

If the headache would only precede the intoxication, alcoholism would be a virtue. --Samuel Butler

Those of you who know me in real life know that I do not consume alcohol. Not on New Year's, not at church, not on my 21st birthday, not even when there is booze in a dessert. I do not consume alcohol. Ever. In fact, I don't even take sips of other peoples' drinks. I have no idea what gin or cabernet taste like. I have never had a Cosmo or an appletini. That's the bad news. The good news is, I've never had Zima either! ha!

It is not for religious reasons. It is not an allergy. It's not because I don't like the taste. It is because I have a problem with alcohol. I have not had a drop since the summer of 1998. So, if you do the math, that means I had plenty of drinking going on in high school and my freshman year of college. Let me assure you, I drank enough to last a lifetime during those few years! But I wouldn't know that from personal experience. It's only what people have told me the next day when I was trying to drown out the pounding in my head with nausea-reducing pancakes. I'm not going to recount all the scary and stupid stuff that I did, but let's just say one of my wake-up calls was one morning in college when I woke up in my dorm room wearing party clothes and did not even remember going out the night before. To this day, I have no inkling of what I did, how embarrassing I must have been or even who I was with. This was one of several blackouts I had before I quit.

You see, my family is probably quite different than yours. It is made up of about 50% alcoholics. I don't have alkies on one side of my family. No, I lucked out and got them on both sides. Let's see...there's two grandparents, three brothers, The Czarina (my mom), my mom's aunt, one of her cousins, oh, and me. To date, Czarina's aunt and one of my brothers have died in alcohol-related deaths. The other two brothers will probably kill themselves too, one day, if they don't stop drinking. They have each had several DUIs and wrecked cars from driving drunk. They have lost jobs, custody of their children, wives and girlfriends because of alcohol. It is the only important thing to them.

The good news is, The Czarina, one grandparent and myself have all quit. None of us have had any relapses. And we all did it without the help of AA, somehow. (Supposedly, this is unheard of. I do think AA is a successful program--I am not bashing on it in any way.) Luckily, The Czarina quit before I was three, so I did not grow up in an alcoholic home. I cannot imagine how horrible that would be or how different I might be had that been the case. I am grateful to her every day for that.

I truly doubt I will ever drink again, as it is such a way of life for me. The only time I'm even tempted is when it's Girls' Night Out, because I do miss that. But really, it was pretty easy for me to quit. The Czarina says that's because I quit before really letting it get a hold of me. If I had kept drinking for too much longer, it would have been very difficult, I think. (A lot of people don't know it, but alcoholism can take years to develop and be full-blown.) I do miss the taste of beer very much sometimes, so I drink non-alcoholic beer, which tastes like piss, unfortunately. And I do miss tequila. But most of the time, I don't think about booze at all. The only time I'm around alcohol is when I go out to bars or parties. It's funny, because sometimes I forget you can buy alcohol at stores and drink it at home!

I would not be where I am today if I had not quit. I would have probably been date raped, gotten a DUI, flunked out of college or killed myself in some kind of accident. I can say this with certainty, because I came dangerously close to all of those situations before I quit. I have been drunk in class, drunk behind the wheel, drunk in a room alone with a strange guy. I am the luckiest girl alive, because I could have gotten really screwed up.

A lot of people don't understand what my family goes through. Unless you have serious alcoholics in your family, you probably won't ever understand. It's not "oh, they are just having a good time" or "oh, you can have a couple". Alcoholics are seriously screwing up their lives. It's nothing to be taken lightly, trust me. Watching an alcoholic in action is one of the scariest things I've ever seen. But maybe that's because now I'm seeing it from the other side. Sometimes I get really angry at the way our society is so alcoholic-friendly. Being a hard core partier is a badge of honor, especially in college. I know that a lot of people are just having a good time or just being college students. And a lot of people are truly just having a good time and don't have problems. But not everyone is in control.

In a nutshell, alcoholics' bodies do not process drinks they way your body does. It is hard to explain, but that's the best way to put it. I like to think that it is misunderstood in the same way that depression is misunderstood--"Just stop being sad." Only to alcoholics, it's "Ok, so just drink one." Well, it isn't that easy. Alcoholics' brains do not think properly. They don't understand the point of drinking unless it is to get drunk. Having "just one" literally doesn't compute. They worry they won't have access to alcohol, so they can be very possessive about it. They worry everyone thinks they can't handle alcohol, so they hide it or lie about it. They are constantly trying to prove that they are in control of the alcohol, rather than the other way around. (This is why they have a tendency to drive drunk.) Their personalities change when they drink--a normally nice person will become an asshole. (I would pick fights with my friends, for example. This makes no sense, because in reality, I am a complete wuss who loves her friends very much.) They will gradually drink more and more as time goes on. Their tolerance is incredible. They are not picky about what they drink. (I cannot stand the taste of vodka. But if that was all there was, I'd drink the hell out of it!) They run to alcohol to drown out their problems. They pressure other people to drink so that they aren't the only ones drinking. I have thought and acted just like all of these situations I just described. There are more signs, but I'm sure you've got the idea. (And a lot of signs are obvious to anyone. Someone who drinks alone or at work obviously has a problem.) But a lot of signs are only evident to other alcoholics. I can sniff out another alkie very easily because I see them acting how I used to act. And let me tell you, I see a lot of people acting like this.

A lot of people are hesitant to think, believe or even say that someone they know has an alcohol problem. It's almost like saying someone has cancer. I wish people would treat alcoholism as seriously. I have heard a statistic that states one out of every 5 people is an alcoholic. But then again, The Czarina is the source of that information, and she thinks everyone is an alcoholic! We tease her about it sometimes, but she might be right. It's a fairly prevalent disease--yes, it is classified as a disease--with a highly genetic tendency. Normally, if your family isn't affected, you know someone whose family is affected. Unfortunately, the only cure is for the alcoholic to find something they want more than alcohol. Only then will they sacrifice alcohol to get what they want. I myself wanted to graduate college and have a good relationship with The Czarina. So I quit. And I haven't looked back. Not once.

I have to say, it's pretty nice sometimes. I never have hangovers. I never have to puke or sleep with one foot on the floor. I spend virtually no money when I go out. I can always drive, so I'm usually the designated driver. Which is probably my favorite thing, because I get to say when it's time to go home. Really, it's better this way.

So what is the main drawback? I know you are saying, "Duh! You can't drink! That sucks!" But that's not the bad part. What's hard is being around strangers who ask nosy questions about why I don't drink (I swear I'm going to start telling people I'm pregnant!) or people who pressure me to have "just a sip" after I've said "No, thank you." seven times. It's awkward when people buy me shots and I have to say no. It's annoying to have to explain to people that having a good time does not always require alcohol. Some people just don't get it. But usually they are the ones with the problem.


sassafras said...

Very well written. Coming from a family of As myself I think it's great that you were able to stop when you did. I started down that road as well but I was able to straighten myself out. Now it's in complete moderation and not even in my thoughts. I had to laugh at your comment about how you mom thinks everyone is an A. That's how my mom is! Sometimes it drives me crazy because she also tends to equate that to a person being "bad". Good for you VB =)

The Dummy said...

People who can fight through challenges and come back stronger are keepers in my book. Very cool, VB, very cool.

NML said...

I really admire you for having the forsight to give up alcohol before you got too deep. I don't drink either and I have to fend off questions all the time, but I don't drink for health reasons. People are far too nosy for their own good and they start trying to reason with you and tell you that you can have just the one.

teahouse said...

My best friend is from a family much like yours. She's never been a big drinker at all, and that's why. I'm proud of her for staying strong all these years.

Virginia Belle said...

Sassafras-- thanks. the good thing about having this problem is that you have lots of company. so many people have/know someone who has a problem with alcohol. and that is funny how your mom is the same way! weird...

DD--*VB curtsies*

NML--isn't it absurd how rude/nosy people are about it? you'd think it was like we were saying we are abstaining from breathing or something! sheesh! i do have an excellent comeback, though if a guy says, "so, why don't you drink?" --i just say, "so i don't go home with guys like you." that shuts them up really fast!

teahouse-- let me tell ya, she really appreciates the support! it's not always easy. i was pretty much the only sober person for miles at new year's!

annie said...

Not much of a drinker here, and I have alcoholism in my family, too. I applaud you!